Lady Tigers erase 18-point deficit to beat Southern Lehigh
It's not the way the Northwestern girls basektball team wants to win games. But in the long run, having to come back from an 18-point deficit against Southern Lehigh Tuesday night could give the team confidence.
The Lady Tigers fell behind 44-26 early in the third quarter, but battled back to beat the Spartans, 72-65.
While it was a difficult task and one the team surely doesn't want to face again, it can only help them down the road to know they can withstand that type of adversity in a big game.
"We haven't been down much," said senior Sara Jones, who scored a career-high 30 pints in the win. "To be down by 18 at one point shows it's possible for us to come back. Teams can beat us. We need to work for everything."
The Tigers worked hard in the second half Tuesday. They cranked up the defensive intensity, forcing eight Spartan turnovers while closing the deficit with a 12-2 run over the final 4:29.
"As soon as we got a couple buckets we got our confidence going," said Jones. "We switched up the defense and we were getting some steals. Then everything just started to go our way in the second half."
Northwestern (11-0 overall, 7-0 Colonial League) outscored Southern Lehigh 46-21 over the final 10:29.
"In the second half we really connected and got our heads in the game," said junior center Trista Cunningham, who scored 11 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. "We all got really focused and we realized what we were getting into and we knew we needed to get our act together."
Jones scored nine of her 21 second-half points during that third-quarter run that saw the Tigers trim the deficit to exactly the number head coach Chris Deutsch hoped for at 46-40. By the time the final quarter started, the home crowd was energized and behind its Tigers.
"Our goal going was to get it down to six heading into the fourth quarter," said Deutsch. "Once we hit a couple shots it got louder and louder."
The Spartans (9-3, 5-2) fought off the comeback as long as they could, but when Jones hit a three-pointer with 3:40 left in the game, it gave her team its first lead since the first quarter, 57-56.
The Spartans' Madelene McDonald scored her first basket since the second quarter to put her team back ahead. A Jones free throw tied the game and a pair from Sabrina Mertz put Northwestern ahead. The Tigers sealed the win with a 13-for-18 effort at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. They scored 32 points in the fourth quarter.
"We played not to lose," said Southern Lehigh head coach Megan Dellegrotti. "When you do that you start making mistakes. They capitalized on every mistake that we made in the second half, which is why they're in the position they are. That's why they're undefeated."
McDonald led the Spartans to the early lead, scoring 18 of her team-high 24 points in the first half.
Northwestern tweaked its defense in the second half, with guards Sarah Segan and Mertz pressuring the ball and Jones covering McDonald when in man-to-man.
"That's a credit to our assistant coaches," said Deutsch. "They suggested we change our defense up and it worked. I thought we created more turnovers in the second half. I thought was energy was up."
Jones led the defensive effort with three steals in the third quarter.
"She stepped up big," said Deutsch. "That's what leaders are all about. In a big type of game, that's as good as it gets."
"She put them on her back in the second half,' said Dellegrotti. "That's what good players do. She did a great job and the other players follow her lead. When your best player is hitting shots and making the extra pass and playing defense, that type of play is contagious. When Sara Jones plays like that it gives the rest of her team confidence."
Northwestern got contributions from several players.
Mertz scored 16 points in the game, hitting a pair of three-pointers early in the fourth quarter to help finish off the comeback. Sarah Segan had four steals in the game and scored 11 of her 12 points in the second half.
The Tigers clinched a district playoff berth with the win. Halfway through the season, they hold first place in the District 11 Class AA rankings. In the league they own a one-game lead over Bangor in the North Division and are tied with South Division leader Notre Dame (10-1, 7-0) for the league's best record. The Crusaders visit New Tripoli Tuesday, Jan. 22 in what could be a battle for the top seed in the four-team league playoffs.
Northwestern will have to get by Salisbury (Friday), Palisades (Tuesday) and Saucon Valley (Friday, Jan. 18) to set up the battle of unbeatens.